The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Recitation, by George Herbert Betts
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Riverside Educational Monographs
EDITED BY HENRY SUZZALLO
PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
BY GEORGE HERBERT BETTS, Ph. D. PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY CORNELL COLLEGE, IOWA
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO SAN FRANCISCO The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY GEORGE HERBERT BETTS COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
EDITOR'SINTRODUCTIONv I.THEPURPOSES OF THERECITATION1 II.THEMETHOD OF THERECITATION29 III.THEART OFQUESTIONING55 IV.CONDITIONSNECESSARYTO AGOOD RECITATION81 V.THEASSIGNMENT OF THELESSON107
Teachers are not always clear as to what they mean when they speak of the recitation. Many different meanings are associated with the term. Some of these are suggestive but quite vague; and others, although more definite, are but partial truths that hinder as much as they help. It is not surprising that a confused usage of the term is current among teachers. From one point of view, the recitation is a recitation-period, a segment of the daily time schedule. In this sense it is an administrative unit, valuable in apportioning to each school subject its part of the time devoted to the curriculum. Thus, we speak of five recitations in arithmetic, three in music, or two in drawing, having in mind merely the number of times the class meets for instruction in a particular school study. A recitation here means no more than a class-period, a more or less arbitrary device for controlling the teacher's and pupils' distribution of energy among the various subjects taught. From another point of view, the recitation is a form of educative activity rather than a mere time allotment. In this sense the recitation is a process of instruction, a mode of teaching, wherein pupils and teacher, facing a common situation, proceed toward a more or less conscious end. It is a distinct movement in classroom experience, so organized that a definite beginning, progression, and end are clearly distinguishable. Thus we speak of the method of the recitation, the five formal steps of the recitation, or the various types of recitation. Such a usage makes "recitation" synonymous with "lesson." Indeed, when we pass from general pedagogical discussion to a detailed treatment of special methods of teaching, we usually abandon the term recitation" and use " the word "lesson." Although there is always some notion of a time-period in the curriculum in our idea of a lesson, yet the term "lesson" is more intimately connected with the thought of a teaching exercise in which ideas are developed and fixed in memory. It is through the lesson or recitation that pupils and teachers influence one another's thought and action; and when this condition exists, there is always educative activity. These two ways of thinking of the recitation, one primarily administrative and the other primarily educative, need to be somewhat sharply differentiated in our thinking. However closely related they are in actual schoolroom work, however greatly they influence each other in practice, they require a theoretic separation. Only by this method can we avoid some of the error and confusion current in teaching theory and practice. A single instance will suffice to show the value of the distinction. No one of us would deliberately assume that the teaching process required for the instruction of a child would just cover the twenty, thirty, or forty minutes allotted to the class-period, day after day and year after year, regardless of the subject presented or the child taught. Yet this is precisely the sort of assumption
that is implied throughout a considerable portion of our current discussion of the teaching process. We talk about a "developmental-lesson" or a "review-recitation" in, say, geography, as though it began and ended with the recitation-period of the day. The daily lesson-plans we demand of apprentice-teachers in training-schools are largely built upon this basis. Of course the fact that one must begin a theme at a given moment and close at a similar arbitrary point affects the teacher's procedure somewhat. He will always have to attack the problem anew at ten o'clock and pull together the loose ends of discussion at ten-thirty, if these happen to be the limits of time assigned him. But who will be bold enough to assert that the psychological movement for the development and solution of the particular problem at hand will always be exactly thirty minutes long? It is possible, and quite probable, that the typical movements in instruction—development, drill, examination, practice, and review—may occur within a single class-period, following fast upon the heels of each other as the situation may demand. It is equally probable that in many cases any one of them may reach across several class-periods. We need a more flexible way of thinking of the recitation and of the teaching activities involved in class-periods and of other administrative factors which condition the effectiveness of teaching. Such a clear, flexible treatment of the recitation is offered in this volume. We feel that it will be particularly welcome to the practical teacher since so many previous treatments of this subject have been formal or obscure. Combining the training of a psychologist with the experience of a class teacher, Professor Betts has given us a lucid, helpful, and common-sense treatment of the recitation without falling into scientific technicality or pedagogical formalism.
THE PURPOSES OF THE RECITATION
The teacher has two great functions in the school; one is that of organizing and managing, the other, that of teaching. In the first capacity he forms the school into its proper divisions or classes, arranges the programme of daily recitations and other exercises, provides for calling and dismissing classes, passing into and out of the room, etc., and controls the conduct of the pupils; that is, keeps order. The organization and management of the school is of the highest importance, and fundamental to everything else that goes on in the school. A large proportion of the teachers who are looked upon as unsuccessful fail at this point. Probably at least two out of three who lose their positions are dropped from inability to organize and manage a school. While this is true, however, the organizing and managing of the school is wholly secondary; it exists only that theteachingis, after all, the primary thing. Lacking goodmay go on. Teaching teaching, no amount of good management or organization can redeem the school.
1.The teacher and the recitation Teaching goes on chiefly in what we call therecitation. This is the teacher's point of contact with his pupils; here he meets them face to face and mind to mind; here he succeeds or fails in his function of teaching. Failure in teaching is harder to measure than failure in organization and management. It quickly becomes noised abroad if the children are not well classified, or if the teacher cannot keep order. If the machinery of the school does not run smoothly, its creaking soon attracts public attention, and the skill of the teacher is at once called into question. But the teacher may be doing indifferent work in the recitation, and the class hardly be aware of it and the patrons know nothing about it. There is no definite measure for the amount of inspiration a teacher is giving daily to his pupils, and no foot-rule with which to test the worth of his instruction in the recitation. And it is this very fact that makes it so necessary that the teacher should study the principles of teaching as applied to the recitation. The difficulty of accurately measuring failure in actual teaching tends to make us all careless at this point. Yet this is the very point above all others that is vital to the pupil. Inspiring teaching may compensate in large degree for poor management, but nothing can make up to a pupil for dull and unskillful teaching. If the recitations are for him a failure, nothing else can make the school a success so far as he is concerned. The ultimate measure of a teacher, therefore, is the measure taken before his class, while he is conducting a recitation. 2.The necessity of having a clear aim Any discussion of the recitation should begin with its aims or purposes; for upon aim or purpose everything else depends. For example, if you ask me the best method of conducting a recitation, I shall have to inquire before answering, whether your purpose in this recitation is to discover what the pupils have prepared of the work assigned them; or to introduce the class to a new subject, such as percentage in arithmetic; or to drill them, as upon the multiplication table. Each of these purposes would demand a different method in the recitation. Again, if your purpose is to show off a class before visitors, you will need to use a very different method from what you will employ if your aim is to encourage the class in self-expression and independence in thinking. There are three great purposes to be accomplished through the recitation: testing,teaching, anddrilling. These three aims may all be accomplished at times in the same recitation, may even alternate with each other in successive questions, but they are nevertheless wholly distinct from each other, and require different methods for their accomplishment. The skillful teacher will have one or the other of these three aims before him either consciously or unconsciously at each moment of the recitation, and will know when he changes from one to the other and for what reason. Let us proceed to consider each of these aims somewhat more in detail. 3.Testing as an aim in the recitation Testing deals with ground already covered, with matter already learned, or with
powers already developed. It concerns itself with the old, instead of progressing into the new. It seeks to find out what the child knows or what he can do of that which he has already been over in his work. Of course every new lesson or task attempted is in some measure a test of all that has preceded it, but testing needs to be much more definite and specific than this. The testing discussed here must not be confused with what we sometimes call "tests," but which really are examinations, given at more or less infrequent intervals. Testing may and should be carried on in the regular daily recitations by questions and answers either oral or written, bearing on matter previously assigned; by discussions of topics of the lesson assigned; or by requiring new work involving the knowledge or power gained in the past work which is being tested. The following are some of the principal things which we should test in the recitation:— a. The preparation of the lesson assigned.—The preparation of every lesson assigned should be tested in some definite way. This is of the utmost importance, especially in all elementary grades. We are all so constituted mentally that we have a tendency to grow careless in assigned tasks if their performance is not strictly required of us. No matter how careful may be the assignment of the lesson, and no matter how much the teacher may urge upon the class at the time of the assignment that they prepare the lesson well, the pupils must be held responsible for this preparation day by day, without fail, if we are to insure their mastery of it. Nor is it enough to inquire, "How many understand this lesson?" or "How many got all the examples?" It is the teacher's business to test thoroughly for himself the pupil's mastery of the lesson or the knowledge or power required for the examples, in some definite and concrete way. It will not suffice to take the pupil's judgment of his own preparation and mastery, for many will allow a hazy or doubtful point to go by unexplained rather than confess before teacher and class their lack of study or inability to grasp the topic. Further, pupils seldom have the standards of mastery which enable them to judge what constitutes an adequate grasp of the subject. b. The pupil's knowledge and his methods of study.—Entirely aside from the question of the preparation of the lesson assigned, the teacher must constantly test the pupil's knowledge in order that he may know how and what next to teach him; for no maxim of teaching is better established than that we should proceed from the known to the related unknown. And this is only another way of saying that we should build all new knowledge upon the foundation of knowledge already mastered. To illustrate: Pupils must have a thorough mastery and ready knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division before we can proceed to teach them measurements or fractions. And without doubt much time is wasted in attempting to teach these subjects without a ready command of the fundamental operations. Further, pupils must know well both common and decimal fractions before they can proceed to percentage. They must know and be able to recognize readily the different "parts of speech" before they can analyze sentences in grammar. But not less important than what the pupil knows ishow knows the thing; he
that is, what are his methods of study and learning. The pupil in a history class may be able to recite whole pages of the text almost verbatim, but when questioned as to the meaning of the events and facts show very little knowledge about them. A student confessed to her teacher that she had committed all her geometry lessons to memory instead of reasoning them out. She could in this way satisfy a careless teacher who did not take the trouble to inquire how the pupil had prepared her lessons, but she knew little or no geometry. The mind has what may be called three different levels. The first is thesensory level, represented by the phrase "in at one ear and out of the other." Every one has experienced reading a page when the mind would wander and only the eyes follow the lines on down to the bottom of the page, nothing remaining as to the meaning of the text. It is easy to glance a lesson over just before reciting, and have it stick in the memory only long enough to serve the purposes of the recitation. Things learned in this way are not permanently serviceable and really constitute no part of an education. The second level of the mind may be called thememory level. Matter which enters the mind only to this depth may be retained for a considerable time but is little understood and hence of small value. All rules and definitions committed without knowing their meaning or seeing their application, and all lessons learned merely to recite without a reasonable grasp of their meaning, sink only as deep as the memory level. The third and deepest level is that of theunderstanding. Matter which permeates down through the sensory and memory levels, getting thoroughly into the understanding level, is not only remembered but is understood and applied, and therefore becomes of real service in our education. Of course it is clear that the ideal in teaching should be to lead our pupils so to learn that most of what enters their memory shall also be mastered by their understanding. Therefore, in the recitation we should test not alone to see what the pupil knows, but also to seehow he knows it; not only to find out whether he can recite, but also what are his methods of learning. We should discover not alone whether the facts learned have entered the memory, but whether they have sunk down into the understanding, so that they can be used in the acquisition of further education. c. The pupil's points of failure and the cause thereof.—Every teacher has been surprised many times to discover weak places in the pupil's work when everything had seemingly been thoroughly learned. With the best teaching these weak places will occasionally occur. It is not less essential to know these points of failure than to know the foundations of knowledge which the pupil has already mastered. For these weak spots must be remedied as we go along if the later work is to be successful. Very frequently classes are unable to proceed satisfactorily because of lack of thoroughness in the foundation work which precedes. To know where a pupil is failing is the first requisite if we are to help him remedy his weakness. But not only must the teacher know where the pupil is failing, but also the cause of his failure. Only when we know this can we intelligently apply the remedy for the failure. A physician friend of mine tells me that almost any quack can
prescribe successfully for sickness if he has an expert at hand to diagnose the case and tell him what is the matter. This is the hardest part of a physician's work and requires the most skill. So it is with the teacher's work as well. If we are sure that a certain boy is failing in his recitations because he is lazy, it is not so difficult to devise a remedy to fit the case. If we know that another is failing because the work is too advanced for his preparation, we select a different remedy. But in every case we must first know the cause of failure if we hope to prescribe a remedy certain to produce a cure. Some teachers prescribe for poorly learned lessons much after the patent medicine method. A recent advertisement of one particular nostrum promises the cure of any one of thirty-seven different diseases. Surely with such a remedy as this at hand there will be no need to diagnose a case of sickness to find out what is the trouble. All we need to do is to take the regulation dose. And all patients will be treated just alike whatever their ailment. This is the quack doctor's method as it is the quack teacher's. If the teacher is unskillful or lazy the remedy for poor recitations usually is, "Take the same lesson for to-morrow." There is even no attempt to discover the cause of failure and no thought put on the question of how best to remedy the failure and prevent its recurrence. 4.Teaching as an aim in the recitation While testing deals with the old,—reviewing and fixing more firmly that which we have already learned,—teaching, by using the old, leads on to the new. To educate means tolead out—to lead the child out from what he already has attained and mastered to new attainments and new mastery. This is accomplished through teaching. It is not enough, therefore, to employ the recitation as a time for testing the class; the recitation is also the teacher's opportunity to teach. Teaching as distinguished from testing becomes, therefore, one of the great aims of the recitation. Teaching should accomplish the following objects in the recitation:— a. Give the child an opportunity for self-expression.—"We learn to do by doing," providing the doing is really ours. If the doing holds our interest and thought nothing will serve to clear up faulty thinking and partly mastered knowledge like attempting to express it. One really never fully knows a thing until he can so express it that others are caused to know it also. Further, every person needs to cultivate the power of expression for its own sake. Expression consists not only of language, but the work of the hand in the various arts and handicrafts, bodily poise and carriage, facial expression, gesture, laughter, and any other means which the mind has of making itself known to others. These various forms of expression are the only way we have of causing others to know what we think or feel. And the world cares very little how much we may know or how deeply we may feel if we have not the power to express our thoughts and emotions. The child should have, therefore, the fullest possible opportunity in the recitation for as many of these different kinds of expression as are suitable to the work of the recitation. Not only must the teacher be careful not to monopolize the time of the class himself, but he must even lead the children
out, encouraging them to express in their own words or through their drawings and pictures, or through maps they make or through the things they construct with their hands, or in any other way possible, their own knowledge and thought. The timid child who shrinks from reciting or going to the blackboard to draw or write needs encouragement and teaching especially. The constant danger with all teachers is that of calling upon the unusually quick and bright pupil who is ready to recite, thus giving him more than his share of training in expression and robbing thereby the more timid ones who need the practice. b. Give help on difficult points.complaint frequently heard in some schools,—A and no doubt in some degree merited in all, is, "Teacher will not help," or, "Teacher does not explain." No matter how excellent the work being done by the class or how skillful the teaching, there will always be hard points in the lessons which need analysis or explanation. This should usually be done when the lesson is assigned. A teacher who knows both the subject-matter and the class thoroughly can estimate almost precisely where the class will have trouble with the lesson, or what important points will need especial emphasis. And in the explanation and elaboration of these points is one of the best opportunities for good teaching. The good teacher will help just enough, but not too much; just enough so that the class will know how to go to work with the least loss of time and the greatest amount of energy; not enough so that the lesson is already mastered for the class before they begin their study. But it is necessary to help the class on the hard points not only in assigning the lesson, but also in the recitation. The alert teacher will in almost every recitation discover some points which the class have failed to understand or master fully. It is the overlooking of such half-mastered points as these that leaves weak places in the pupil's knowledge and brings trouble to him later on. These weak points left unstrengthened in the recitation are the lazy teacher's greatest reproach; the occasion of the unskillful teacher's greatest bungling; and the inexperienced teacher's greatest "danger points." c. Bring in new points supplementing the text.—While the lesson of the textbook should be followed in the main, and most of the time devoted thereto, yet nearly every lesson gives the wide-awake teacher opportunity to supplement the text with interesting material drawn from other sources. This rightly done lends life and interest to the recitation, broadens the child's knowledge, and increases his respect for the teacher. In this way many lessons in history, geography, literature—in fact, in nearly all the studies,—can have their application shown, and hence be made more real to the pupils. d. Inspire the pupils to better efforts and higher ideals.—The recitation is the teacher's mental "point of contact" with his pupils. He meets them socially in a friendly way at intermissions and on the playground. His moral character and personality are a model to the children at all times. But it is chiefly in the recitation that thementalgiven. The teacher who is lifeless and is stimulus uninspiring in the teaching of the recitation cannot but fail to inspire his school to a strong mental growth, whatever else he may accomplish. Most pupils have powers far in excess of those they are using. They only need to be inspired, to be wakened up mentally by a teacher whose mind is alive and growing. They need to be made hungry for education, and this can be accomplished only by a teacher who is himself full of enthusiasm. Inspiration is
caught, not taught. e. Lead pupils into good habits of study.—It is probably not too much to say that one third or one half of the pupil's time is lost in school because of not knowing how to study. Over and over pupils say to the teacher, "I didn't know how to get this." Many times children labor hard over a lesson without mastering it, simply because they do not know how to pick out and classify its principal points. They work on what is to them a mere jumble, because they lack the power of analysis or have never been taught its use. Very early in school life the pupil should be taught to look for and make a list of the principal points in the lesson. If the lesson starts with a Roman numeral I, the child should be taught to look for II and III, and to see how they are related to I. An Arabic 1 usually means that 2, and perhaps 3 and 4 are to follow; the letteraat the head of a paragraph should start the pupil to looking forb,c, etc. And if the text does not contain such numbering or lettering, the pupil should be led to search for the main divisions and topics of the lesson for himself. Of course these principles will not apply to spelling lessons, mere lists of sentences to be analyzed or problems to be solved, but they do apply to almost every other type of lesson. The best time to teach the child to make the kind of analysis suggested is when we are assigning the lesson. We can then go over the text with the class, helping them to select the chief points of the lesson until they themselves have learned this method of study. 5.Drill as an aim in the recitation There is a great difference between merely knowing a thing and knowing it so well that we can use it easily and with skill. Perhaps all of us know the alphabet backwards; yet if the order of the dictionary were reversed so that it would run from Z to A, we would for a time lack the skill we now have in quickly finding any desired words in the dictionary. Certain fundamentals in our education need to be so well learned that they are practically automatic, and can hence be skillfully performed without thought or attention. We must know our spelling in this way, so that we do not have to stop and think how to spell each word. In the same manner we must know the mechanics of reading, that is, the recognition and pronunciation of words, the meaning of punctuation marks, etc.; and similarly multiplication and the other fundamental operations in arithmetic. Pupils should come to know these things so well that they are as automatic as speech, or as walking, eating, or any other of the many acts which "do themselves." If this degree of skill is not reached, it means halting and inefficient work in all these lines farther on. Many are the children who are crippled in their work in history, geography, and other studies because they cannot read well enough to understand the text. Many are struggling along in the more advanced parts of the arithmetic, unable to master it because they are deficient in the fundamentals, because they lack skill. And many are wasting time trying to analyze sentences when they cannot recognize the different parts of speech. Skill is efficiency in doing. It is always a growth, and never comes to us ready-made. To be sure, some pupils can develop skill much faster than others, but the point is, thatskill has to be developed. Skill is the result of repetition, or
practice, that is, ofdrill. The following principles should guide in the use of drill in the recitation: a. Drill should be employed wherever a high degree of skill is required.—This applies to what have been called the "tools of knowledge," or those things which are necessary in order to secure all other knowledge. Such are the "three R's," reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic, to which we may add spelling. Without a good foundation in these, all other knowledge will be up-hill work, if not wholly impossible. b. Drill must be upon correct models, and with alert interest and attention.—Mere repetition is not enough to secure skill. What teacher has not been driven to her wits' ends to prevent the successive lines in the copy book from growing steadily worse as they increase in number from the copy on down the page! Surely drill with such a result would be long in arriving at skill. Such practice is not only wholly wasted, but actually results in establishing false models and careless habits in the pupil's mind. Each line must be written with correct models in mind, and with the effort to make it better than any preceding one, if skill is to be the outcome. Much of the value of drill is often lost through lack of interest and attention. The child lazily sing-songing the multiplication table may learn to say it as he would a verse of poetry, and yet not know the separate combinations when he needs them in problems. What he needs is drill upon the different combinations hit-and-miss, and in simple problems, rapidly and many times over, with sufficient variety and spice, so that his interest and attention are always alert. A certain boy persisted in saying "have went" instead of "have gone." Finally his teacher said, "Johnny, you may stay to-night after school and write 'have gone' on the blackboard one hundred times. Then you will not miss it again." Johnny stayed after school and wrote "have gone" one hundred times as the teacher had directed. When he had completed his task the teacher had gone to another part of the building. Before leaving for home Johnny politely left this note on the teacher's desk: "Dear Teacher: I have went home." Plenty of drill, but it was not accompanied by interest and attention, and hence left no effect. c. Drill must not stop short of a reasonable degree of efficiency, or skill.—Most teachers would rathertestorteachthandrill. Others do not see the necessity of drill. Hence it happens that a large proportion of our pupils are not given practice or drill enough to arrive at even a fair degree of skill. Set ten pupils of the intermediate grades to adding up four columns of figures averaging a footing of 100 to the column, and you will probably have at least five different answers. And so with many of the fundamentals in other branches as well.We too often stop practice just short of efficiency, and thereby waste both time and effort. d. Drill must be governed by definite aims.—Probably drilling requires more planning and care on the part of the teacher than any other work of the recitation. Drill applied indiscriminately wastes time and kills interest. To study a spelling lesson over fifteen times as some teachers require is folly. Every spelling list will contain some words which the pupil already knows. He should put little or no drill on these, but only on the troublesome ones. In learning and
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